Rare Masterpieces of Asian Art

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Sotheby’s upcoming Arts d’Asie auction on 11 June features a rare large sandstone head of Buddha which stylistically can be dated to the late 7th century/early 8th century, and a strong group of Chinese and Himalayan buddhist gilt-bronzes from various private collections, among them a well-cast gilt-bronze figure of a Bodhisattva, possibly Manjusri, made during the Yongle period of the Ming dynasty. Click the image above to view the slideshow.

Rare Masterpieces of Asian Art

  • An Important Sandstone Head of Buddha, Tang Dynasty, Late 7th/Early 8th Century, Estimate €150,000–250,000
    This impressive 7th-8th century Buddha’s stone head was dated to the Northern Song dynasty and linked to stone sculpture from Sichuan. However, stylistically this head is more representative of Chinese Buddhist stone sculpture from the period that saw the greatest flowering of China‘s sculptural arts, the High Tang period under Emperor Xuanzong (r. 713-755).

    Buddhist sculpture of this period is characterised by the very sensuous physical appearance of the deities represented. The present head with his plump face, the elegantly curved almond-shaped eyes beneath sharply defined and arched brows, its well-formed nose and full lips recessed into fleshy cheeks is a prime example of the fully matured style of High Tang Buddhist sculpture. The modelling of the facial features is articulated with vivid realism, the serene expression of the Buddha endowed with the uttermost spirituality.
  • A Rare Well-Cast Gilt-Bronze Figure of a Bodhisattva, Yongle Mark And Period, Estimate €100,000–200,000
    The artists working in the imperial workshops during the Yongle period remain anonymous, but their sculptures have now become recognised as being among the most important works of art from the Buddhist world. Some fifty-four gilt bronzes bearing the inscription Da Ming Yongle nian shi have been documented in Tibetan monastery collections. These works have survived in Tibet largely due to imperial patronage lavished on Tibetan hierarchs and monasteries during the reign of Zhu Di, who pursued a bountiful relationship with Tibetan religious leaders during his reign as Yongle (Perpetual Happiness) Emperor.

    This elegant bronze figure of a Bodhisattva was originally acquired in 1956 from the sale of the collection of André Schoeller at Hôtel Drouot, Paris. While the identity of the figure is not entirely clear, the positioning of the hands indicates that it may represent Manjushri.
  • A Rare and Impressive Twelve Panel Coromandel Polychrome Lacquer Screen with Views of the West Lake, Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period, Estimate €80,000–120,000
    Landscape-themed screens often depict well-known scenes of China, such as the Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers, The Nine Bends of Wuyi River, and in the case of the present lot, a view of the West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

    Hangzhou was one of the most popular tourist destination in China and in the 14th century, the city had the largest population in the world. Famous for its beauty, Hangzhou was seen as a place of retreat and meditation.

    The beauty of the buildings, the bridges, the triumphal arches and the canals is wonderfully described on this rare and impressive twelve panel screen.
  • A Rare Gilt-Bronze Figure of Amitayus, Mongolia, 18th Century, Estimate €100,000–150,000
    This Buddha Amitayus has been discovered recently in a French collection. The Buddha holds a pot that contains the elixir of life, providing devotees with health and longevity. Particularly popular in Mongolia, Amitayus’ face reflects his perfect state of meditation. The gilding of this delicately rendered image is especially effective in conveying the light that radiates from Amitayus’ body as an expression of his enlightenment.
  • A Rare Pair of Zitan Curiosity Boxes and Covers Containing a Selection of Jade Carvings, Qing Dynasty, 19th Century, Estimate €40,000–60,000
    This unusual pair of boxes are made in the shape of a peach enveloped with leafy branches bearing smaller peaches. “Peaches of immortality” are among the most important auspicious symbols in Chinese art, imbued with connotations of longevity. Peaches were among the favoured motif for birthday wishes, for commoners and members of the imperial family alike, especially during the Qianlong period of the Qing dynasty. The auspicious nature of this motif was often reinforced by pairing them with bats, expressing the wish for endless long life and blessings.
    Lavishly carved and embellished boxes such these were made to hold small and precious objects that evoked the curiosity of their owner.
  • A very rare mother-of-pearl-inlaid black lacquered porcelain rouleau vase, Qing Dynasty, Kangxi period, Estimate €40,000–60,000
    This vase depicts an enchanting palace scene with two groups of scholars seated at tables.

    This rare vase is one of the few known examples of porcelain embellished with black lacquer inlaid with tiny pieces of thin multi-colored abalone shell to build up detailed designs. Technically challenging, this technique was more commonly applied to wood and other organic materials. The delicacy and beauty of its details, and the remarkable variety of colors created by the presence of mother-of-pearl and precious metal inlays, emphasize the exceptional nature of this piece of porcelain. The few surviving examples of porcelains decorated with mother-of-pearl-inlays on a lacquered ground all date to the Kangxi period such as this vase.
  • A gilt-bronze and cloisonné enamel tripod censer and cover, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong period. Estimate: €40,000–60,000
    Cloisonne enamel censers of this type and fine quality were made for altar sets placed in Buddhist temples and palaces of the Forbidden City.
  • A Large Gilt-Bronze Figure of Bhaishajyaguru Buddha Seated on a Lotus Base, Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th Century, Estimate €50,000–70,000
    Notable for its large size and crisp casting, the present figure represents the Medicine Buddha (Bhaishajyaguru), as evident by the myrobalan fruit he holds in his right hand. More commonly known as the Medicine Buddha, he is considered a healer who alleviates suffering and offers solace to the afflicted through the medicine of his teachings which are documented in the Bhaishajyaguruvaiduryaprabharaja Sutra, known as the Medicine Buddha Sutra in English.
  • A Rare Well-Carved Cinnabar Lacquer Tiered Double Lozenge-Shaped Box and Cover, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period, Estimate €40,000–60,000
    This box is remarkable for its symmetrical design of two meticulously carved dragons, their vigorous scaly bodies rising and falling among waves and their arms and claws outstretched towards a flaming pearl in the form of a shou (longevity) character. Crisply carved in different levels of relief, the lozenge shape of the box further heightens the dynamism of the scene. Known as fang sheng (double lozenge), lacquer boxes of this form were first made in Ming dynasty (1368-1644).
  • A Large Bronze Head of Buddha, Thailand, U-Thong Style, Ca. 15th Century Estimate €40,000–60,000
    The oval shaped serene face with arched eyebrows with heavy-lidded downcast eyes, an elongated nose mirrored by the pendulous ears framing the face, the delicately hemmed lips, the hair arranged in rows of spiral curls topped rising to form a domed ushnisha pierced for insertion of a separately-cast finial.
  • Two Gilt-Bronze Figures of Guardian Kings, Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th Century, Estimate €20,000–30,000
    Devarajas figures, known as the Kings of the four cardinal directions, were often placed at the four corners of a Buddhist altar or stupa. One of the two figures holding a stupa in his left hand, represents Vaisravana, Guardian King of the North.
  • A Rare Gilt-Copper Alloy Figure of Chakrasamvara, Nepal, 16th/17th Century, Estimate €30,000–50,000
    Particularly striking for the sensitive modelling of the figure's facial features, this piece depicts Chakrasamvara, also known as Wheel of Supreme Bliss. The deity is trampling over two figures, Kalaratri (‘Night of Time’), symbolic of nirvana, and Bhairava, representative of samsara.

    Very finely cast with twelve-armed, this Chakrasamvara is standing in alidhasana, his hands holding various ritual implements, adorned in jewellery and crown with golden finials.
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